A Job of any Merit: Your 3 Options in Worthwhile Work

by Rosa Say on October 3, 2011

This blog post turned into a longer essay, but I hope you’ll still read it, and that you’ll share it, for it’s important: If you haven’t yet done so, it’s time to ask, “What can I do?” about securing worthwhile jobs and stemming rampant unemployment.

Everyone can do something. Everyone.

I ended my last post with this:

I am increasingly of the opinion that the void we have to fill is about having the right jobs in place, and not just jobs as a number. As a business person, you have to decide what the jobs of your future are, and then put those jobs into production: You cannot fill vacancies for jobs you haven’t designed yet. You design them because you are confident about the work those jobs produce — that’s the unfilled capacity economist Paul Krugman refers to.

Whose Confidence Should We Be Talking About?
[In The Phony Fear Factor, Krugman had asked, “After all, why should businesses expand when they’re not using the capacity they already have?”]

As I read it again, I want to strike that ‘as a business person’ caveat, for deciding on the jobs of our future is something we ALL must be involved in now as good citizens — and as good people. Standing by, watching events unfold, and waiting for someone else to change the world isn’t an option, for the hurt has become chronic. If you have any doubt about that at all, quickly scroll through a few of the stories on this new Tumblr, then come back: We are the 99 Percent. Our economic woes affect all of us in some way, even the ‘lucky ones’ silently suffering with the pain of survivor guilt.

In figuring out what we can do, let’s explore this notion of having the ‘right’ job a bit more.

What are the brass tacks these days — the basics of having a job of any merit?

People protesting the economic system walk on a financial district sidewalk as office workers head to work on September 19, 2011 in New York City. (Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

Option 1, their vacancy. Option 2, your vacancy.

As far as jobs go, those who seek work have the same two options they’ve always had: Either they apply for posted job vacancies, or they create a job of their own and fill that one.

The first option has been the easier one in times of prosperity, but we all know it’s gotten much tougher in recent years, and no one sees it getting better anytime soon: There is a Great Reset happening in the ways we choose to both work and live, as economist Richard Florida explains so well (I highly recommend you read his book). Meanwhile, many of our long-term unemployed have simply given up on option 1 altogether — that’s how tough our reset has become.

Part of the present unemployment problem (recapped here), is that people are looking for jobs which no longer exist: They have to change with the times, and they haven’t done so yet. Their old job isn’t coming back, and much as it might hurt to hear it, that might be a good thing — it’s called progress. We know we’ve been shifting from agricultural work, to industrial work, to knowledge work for over a century now. New skills (associated with new jobs) must replace our old skills (that were associated with eliminated jobs), and we’ve got to let go of the old or get left behind.

Related Reading: Thomas Friedman did a good job summing up the changes which have occurred in the last 7 years alone in the Op-ed he wrote for The New York Times this past Saturday: How Did the Robot End Up With My Job? He focuses on the effects of technology, but he also points out how our vocabulary is changing.

Option 2 isn’t limited to entrepreneurship

Used to be that the second option — creating a job of your own — largely meant entrepreneurship, and going into business for yourself. We tend to jump toward that entrepreneurial assumption when we think of creating jobs ourselves, and many will all-too-quickly eliminate it, stating, “That’s just not me” without thinking it through more carefully.

The most enterprising and confident among us are going that route, to be sure. They are becoming entrepreneurs because they see the new possibilities market shifts will reveal — they find consumer confidence where it does in fact, exist. They’re better than the average person in corralling whatever resources they need to get started on an idea, and they continue to build on their dreams, reinventing wherever necessary. They have a talent for seeing possibility in downtimes; they see voids as opportunities they can fill, and thus, serve the rest of us. Most important of all, they are willing to do what it takes to succeed, fully knowing there’s no side-stepping hard work, however good an idea may be.

That’s why going into business for oneself isn’t for everyone, even though we might accept that work of our own design will be thoroughly worthwhile no matter the difficulty. Other variables may be in play, such as family members who end up assuming entrepreneurial risk with you. (By the way, teaming up with others and getting good partners is the smartest route to take — you pool more ideas as you share the risk, and needn’t take the leap into business creation all alone.) Still, entrepreneurship is only part of that second option, and this is a time to explore what else it can mean: You can’t just give up on working because you’ve given up on finding a job.

If you limit Option 2 to the entrepreneurial label, well, that’s a limit you impose on yourself.

If ‘entrepreneurship’ scares you, call it something else.

Don’t let the word scare you off: If you don’t want to be an entrepreneur, call yourself a free agent, or a ‘work creator’ instead. Talk about your efforts as gainful employment, and focus on what that should do for you. As long-time readers know, I like that better anyway, for the Ho‘ohana associations with good work. Shift to your own language of intention.

For instance, creating a job of your own can also mean freelancing: You are able and willing to be the person that other businesses will outsource their work to. Many are making this choice, and turning bundles of ‘odd jobs’ into the mainstay of the work they do. It may not be that lucrative to start, but it’s definitely a place to grow from. Freelancing can pay the bills, keep people active and involved, and more optimistic and energetic. They’re in the game enough to play it instead of warming the bench, or worse, just watching from outside the chain link fence.

Freelancing is simply independent work, done for several people instead of just for one. Said another way, the other part of the ‘create a job of your own’ option has been to give up on the thought of being a full-time employee with benefits. They’re steadily decreasing benefits anyway, with things like pensions going the way of the dinosaur, and this shift in thinking may not be that hard to do anymore. Shore up your financial education in constructing a personal, ‘business of my life’ kind of business plan, so the economics become clearer to you. Ignore the rules (and business managers) other people will blindly and obediently follow, and then forge your own way. You step back to the simpler, basic economic rule of working, living, and playing within your means — as our grandparents may have said, you earn your own keep.

I like to think of this ‘I’ve got no employer’ status as the choice to eventually cut out the middleman (and it’s also the premise of Business Thinking with Aloha). You don’t sign up for the work that someone else has designed, accepting whatever the baggage that comes with it. You opt for the work which best fits into the design of your life instead, whatever job-shape that work might turn out to be. It’s good work, because it’s your work. Work fits into your life, not the other way around.

You know you’re too big for most jobs anyway — your capacity for greatness is way bigger than any single job.

Turn struggle into new learning. You’ll make the effort exciting again.

Many people feel forced into this now, but when you really think about it, it’s much easier to follow the purpose and clarity in your own rules — as long as you do it the smart way, and do learn the ‘dollars and sense’ of personal economics as a societal creature.

We think of this as willpower and discipline, but it’s more about open-minded learning: There are concrete strategies here, such as the practice many are newly learning to follow of eliminating the debt in their life. They are eliminating their use of credit, taking specific actions from cutting up credit cards and using public transit, to getting rid of mortgages in favor of renting. We have experienced how too much credit = longer term debt = stuck in life rather than living it fully. We are newly learning how debt has represented liability on our personal balance sheets.

You needn’t go as far as adopting frugality or austerity in learning more about today’s economics. For instance, there’s great innovation within downsizing movements, and others regarding urbanity, greening, permaculture and eco-living, and you can learn your own best way forward. ‘Ike loa, and the value of learning is the golden ticket to exploring your most desirable options.

But back to jobs” there’s one more option to cover in our brass tacks of the basics.

Option 3, work with the middleman, then help him change his game.

Option 3 is the one I personally find I’m thinking about most these days, in my own work’s passion with value-alignment, and in other industries, like banking and housing, fully cognizant of how we can effect change as consumers, and not just as employees (those who follow my Tumblr have witnessed my explorations).

Like the other two job options I have covered, Option 3 has always been an employment option too, but it differs in that it applies to the people who already have a job. It can also apply to those who presently do volunteer work, but hope to be paid for it one day – they help shift the existing business model, to make future compensation possible.

Option 3 is about being willing to change the game of job definition when you’re already somewhere in the system. You have a job, but you know it can be better, and you actively work to help make that happen. You see where other jobs could, and should be in place, and you help your employer see the light, whether they be the business person, entrepreneur, or boss in charge as ‘middleman.’ You lend whatever support you can, so they will feel more comfortable with taking their leap of faith in new job creation.

This might be something you do for yourself because the job isn’t totally right for you yet either, however know this: Improving the way the game is played in business helps everyone. Those who are happy with their situation, have to call upon their sense of decency and share the wealth — and I don’t just mean monetarily, but by sharing their well-being: Wealth is a Value. People are hurting now, and those who have a job — any job at all — can’t sit back and not empathize with that hurt elsewhere in their communities.

“One of life’s greatest laws is that you cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening your own as well.”
From: The Core 21 Beliefs of Managing with Aloha

Jobs of any merit, deliver personal dignity.

We call it Ho‘ohanohano in Managing with Aloha, the value wherein people feel they can conduct themselves with distinction — that’s what employment does for people; it gives them a means of putting a professional signature on the work they produce.

That’s an incredible gift to give someone.

If you have a job right now, how can you influence your employer? How can you help him or her design and create more work? How can you reshape old jobs that were eliminated into newly relevant ones, and increase the size of your team? Are you speaking up instead of sitting back?

Honestly folks? Option 3 is about being better than you are, and getting involved like you’ve never done so before. Don’t just call yourself lucky to have a job: Start working to get others to enjoy what you might be enjoying, and do whatever you can to help the unemployed from your present circle of influence — share the dignity of work with your fellow human beings.

Dig deep. Ask yourself how you personally can turn the tide of mass unemployment from wherever you now sit. If nothing else, know that we are still in a time of great change and readjustment, and you can’t make any assumptions about your own job either — your anchor.

“In the [prosperity of the] nineties, we saw that a rising tide lifts all boats. Now we see that a changing tide tests the strength of your anchor. What you stand for is as important as what you sell.”
— Roy Spence, CEO of GSD&M Idea City

There are far too many businesses going through the motions now, and resting on their laurels simply because they have held on, not because they have gotten better. That’s just not acceptable any more, nor should it ever be.

Here’s another quote from Roy Spence:

“The thrill of life, at least in my experience, is to create something that was not there before. An article that has never been written, a painting that’s never been painted, a business that’s never been done… I think the thing that always got me through was the belief that, in some moment, I never had a job. I always had work to do. I know that sounds a little bit trite, but not to me. I think you go get a job to make money, I think you go to work to make a difference.”

Let’s go for that thrill, that work we have to do to make a difference. Often, as we constantly talk about here with our Managing with Aloha sensibility for work, creating something that was not there before means putting values in place where they belong.

“The logic of competition has evolved from the imitative world of products versus products, to the revolutionary fervor of business models versus business models, to now, the promising realm of value systems versus value systems.”
— William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre in Mavericks at Work, explain “strategy as advocacy.”

Finally! You can’t just have a company anymore and automatically be successful. You have to have a cause, and one where your values are at work along with your ideas.

So to sum up: Brass tack options in jobs of any merit:

  1. Apply for posted job vacancies. Even if this works for you, know that skills are changing and still in flux. Continue to work on relevant skills-mastery. If you get your foot in the door somewhere, jump down to option 3.
    [This strategy might help: Job-hunting? Don’t apply and fill, create and pitch]
  2. Create your own work. Be more creative and open-minded to your possibilities. Learn more and choose good partners, but no more middleman of any kind: You be the designer of your personal economic rules.
  3. Change the game from within the system. Stop warming the bench. Be an inventor and re-inventor and get actively involved in helping your community as a whole. Use your insider’s position and access to in-play resources to full advantage. Leverage whatever you have, wherever you are, and be a maverick.

Where are you, and what will you choose? Choose so you can take action.

Please talk about this with each other. As I said in the beginning, everyone can do something. Everyone. And that includes you.

In New York City’s Financial District, hundreds of activists have been converging on Lower Manhattan over the past two weeks, protesting as part of an “Occupy Wall Street” movement. The protests are largely rallies against the influence of corporate money in politics, but participants’ grievances also include frustrations with corporate greed, anger at financial and social inequality, and several other issues. (Image via Flickr CC by David Shankbone)

Credit for both images: In Focus with Alan Taylor for The Atlantic.

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